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Paul wrote: " It is CRITICAL that a technical writer have some
technical background to properly document sophisticated technologies."
Kim responded: "I may be the only individual who will disagree with
this, but I do . . . I find that the ability to learn coupled with
BASIC scientific, technical, or business knowledge is a sound basis
for technical writing."
I have to agree with Kim. I started out as a journalist, and I've been
a consulting writer and editor (mostly the latter) for more than 15
years now - on projects ranging from military computer systems to
nature and environmental science, to law, to agricultural economics in
India, to, well, you get the picture. I think writing is a talent as
well as a skill. Good writers are born with a gift for language, which
they then polish. No amount of understanding a technical subject will
make up for that gift. What a technical writer needs, after the basic
talent, is a logical, quick, and curious mind, and the ability to
communicate well on a personal basis with those in technical fields.
Like Kim, I pride myself, and have based my career, on being able to
come up to speed quickly on almost any subject. For a long time, I
specialized in proposal writing and editing. Over the years, I've
accumulated quite a bit of knowledge in various technical fields,
which certainly helps. However, the real trick is learning not to be
afraid of appearing ignorant when talking to techies - I jump right in
and ask questions. As an editor, I learned long ago that I'm a
reasonably intelligent person and if I don't understand what an author
has written, or am not even sure what questions to ask, the writing
(and often the thinking) is probably flawed.
I also work hard to develop rapport and mutual respect when working
with technical people. If I really feel I'm not up to speed on a
subject, I do a lot of homework and make friends with other technical
people who can explain the underlying concepts of the particular
subject of that assignment. It always helps to have more than one
source for understanding an arcane subject.